What Happens When Those Closest to Us Don’t Accept What We Do?
Photo courtesy of Dennis Yang.

What Happens When Those Closest to Us Don’t Accept What We Do?

Written by Emilie

Topics: Guest Posts

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Andy Mort.

When you say no to orthodox employment and the 9-5 work paradigm, you may find that you’re inviting trouble into your life.

Working for yourself means that you need to find motivation, encouragement and inspiration to keep on doing the work that you feel you have to do (your art). It is hard when that choice is not understood by those closest to you.

I never made an explicit decision to cultivate a portfolio career, but my circumstances have led me to become self-employed, and to run my own business. I do freelance creative work (design and video editing), writing, and spend time on my biggest passion, music production. When needed, I also take on jobs which are not explicitly related to my creative projects.

I don’t have a job in the traditional sense. I have clients and an online platform but I don’t “go to work” at the start of the day, and “come home from work” at the end. Work happens how and when I make it happen.

I have continued along this path because it makes sense for my life, work, and art. My lifestyle and work flow have enabled me to build multiple streams of income and to dedicate time to developing a business around the skills and pursuits with which I feel I add most value to the world.

Unconventional choices are often misunderstood

While this system is perfect for me, my career invites difficult conversations with people close to me who don’t understand what I do with my time or why I refuse to find what they call a “proper job.” Other peoples’ perception of what I do becomes hazy because I am outside of the commonly accepted framework of employment.

For members of a community such as Puttylike, it’s easy to forget that you are not the norm. You are exceptional. You are remarkable. And you are an inspiration to me.

If you are building a business around the stuff you love to do, you are not like the rest of the world, especially if your business combines multiple interests. Most people see this as a fantasy and as a risk not worth taking.

Common remarks on unconventional career paths

Those of us on this unconventional path often come up against well-meant but ignorant comments about the way we choose to live. As you recognize the following remarks, remember that other people’s lack of understanding is not a valid reason to stop doing something. Don’t succumb to the pull to quit, don’t just settle, and don’t re-appropriate yourself to the status quo just because some people don’t get why you need to do what you do.

1. When is he going to get a real job with security and a stable income? He’s being a bit selfish, isn’t he?

What is job security? What is a stable income? You’re never going to have an absolute sense of either. Most people in employment are, at most, three months away from being unemployed and without income or control over their situation.

I try to work with at least four or five clients at any one time. If I lose one, I can pick up another without much trouble. I don’t rely on any single stream of income. This feels more secure to me.

In this day and age, building a business platform around your skills and relationships seems more sensible than hedging your bets with one company, organization, or employer.

2. He doesn’t have a job, so he can do me a favor on Thursday morning

When you work for yourself, people often assume that you sit at home, watching daytime TV, and getting fat. If you don’t set boundaries and expectations, your time can very quickly become seen as public property, and you may find that people come to you whenever they need a favor.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t help people. In fact, one of the benefits of working for yourself is that you are able to offer a hand from time to time, and support people when everyone else is at work. But it is important to have autonomy and independence over those decisions.

Be ruthless with your calendar. Make sure to schedule in time for all the work you have promised to do (for both clients and for yourself). Block out time for creative projects, building your business, and developing your craft.

When your calendar says you are busy, you are busy. It doesn’t matter that you are at home, or that you are your own boss. That just makes it even more important that you do the work because no one else will.

3. You’re so lucky. You don’t understand how hard it is for the rest of us

“The harder I work, the luckier I get.” – Samuel Goldwyn

Some people believe that, because I don’t have a ‘job’, I float through life, not doing much, and getting the odd bit of luck and some paid work every now and then. This is not true. I get up every morning at 5.30am to write for two and a half hours before I start my work. As this article about the paradoxical traits of creative points out:

Despite the carefree air that many creative people affect, most of them work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not.

Several people have pointed out that it’s my choice to get up that early, and that no one’s forcing me to do it. But this attitude just shows that some people simply don’t get it. They don’t understand why you would be so dedicated to your work that you would choose to get up two and a half hours before you need to. These are the same people who think that if you don’t have a job that you hate, like them, you’re not playing a fair game.

The accepted paradigm of work is that there is no choice and no genuine autonomy, and that it is more honorable to be subservient to an authority than it is to honor the work that feels deeply ingrained in your soul.

The truth is that, like anything good, autonomy comes at a price. Sacrifices need to be made: energy, time, sleep, effort, and patience. While a lifestyle like mine may have an external appeal to those who don’t see what’s going on under the water, for those of us kicking like mad beneath the surface, it is a necessity.

If you’re brave enough to go for it, good on you

Be encouraged. Know that you’re doing an amazing thing. Don’t be disheartened if the people around you don’t get it. They may not know it but we all need you to carry on creating your art, doing your work, being yourself, and injecting some of your unique passion into the world.

Your Turn

Do you ever feel discouraged by the attitude of the people closest to you? How do you keep going when it feels like you don’t have their support? Let’s keep each other buoyed up in the comments!

Andy Mort is a UK based musician and writer. He is the founder of SheepDressedLikeWolves.com; a Blog and Podcast encouraging Highly Sensitive People and introverts to embrace their creativity and push against the strange assumptions of an often overwhelming world. Andy has been described as having a “daring and innovative approach to creating and releasing modern music, which has proved him and his alter-ego Atlum Schema to be a bright beacon in the depths of British music today.” Find a link to his music through the blog..

20 Comments

  1. Lauren says:

    This couldn’t have come at a better time for me Andy :)
    I’m just starting out as self-employed and have had a couple of wobbles recently (which the Puttytribe has so brilliantly helped with). Time management is my biggest focus at the moment and it’s so true that people think you do nothing and therefore have time for all sorts of favours. It’s also true that we work all hours – it’s gone 9pm and I’ve got another 2 hours of video editing ahead of me for a client, but I’m pushing myself now to allow for a whole day off tomorrow, yay! This type of freedom is exactly what I wanted.
    Great article and I’ll definitely return to it if I have another wobble.

    • Andy says:

      That’s great news, Lauren! So glad to help :) Do you find that when you’re doing this sort of work the days just disappear because you get so absorbed by what you’re doing? It’s weird how much faster time flies when you work for yourself!

      It’s so frustrating when people assume you do nothing. That really is the biggest thing that gets to me. Because in actual fact I love the fact that I am in charge of my time (as you have about your day off), and I like to be able to help people out with certain things. BUT on a couple of occasions doing favours hasn’t been seen as me taking time out of work, and worse has set a precedent so that the next time they need someone to do something they come to me, start with the question ‘you don’t have a job yet do you?’ and then tell me what they need me to do. Ooh!

      But the freedom trumps all of these little wobbles. Have a great day off!

  2. Quiana says:

    Andy you had me at the picture. LOVE it! I agree with your article completely. When I first started my career I jumped around a lot. I often heard people say I’d never make any real money because I couldn’t focus.

    The jumping actually helped me long term as a coach. Thank goodness I stopped listening to people or I would have had a mental breakdown. The way I stopped listening to people was to look at their lives. Many were miserable and I was determined not to be.

    • Lauren says:

      Excellent Quiana, good for you!

    • Andy says:

      Amazing, Quiana. There’s nothing like the negative opinions of other people to motivate you! I recognise that voice about jumping around and not focussing. To be honest I think it’s the perfect way to start out (and continue) – many of the people I know who have launched successful solo businesses started in the same way. You don’t know what you want to do first/what you’re good at and passionate about until you start. Things become clearer on the way. And everything you learn during that time is going to be useful in some way, like you say – the perfect foundation for you as a coach! Sadly your observation is often so true – the most outspoken people about the lives of other people are the most miserable. They take out their inner frustration, (their anger at their own failings), on other people.

  3. Jay says:

    Great article. Most of your experiences have been relevant to me as well.

    One of the things that bothers me the worst, it that the work I am most passionate about in the realm of emotional resilience, asynchronous development and alternative education, is so outside the mainstream paradigm that there are few people that even understand my work/passion in broad strokes.

    It always amazes me what get heard. I am working on making the explanations more coherent and concise, but kinda want more friends who get it. It probably means I need to start making written pieces about it.

    PuttyTribe and the articles on here have both been helping a lot.

    • Andy says:

      Thanks Jay! I can imagine you get it really bad – it’s an interesting insight into the way we listen to other people. We hear what we can cope with/frame within our own understanding. It must be very frustrating when you’re having to explain every time you talk to people. It sounds like you’re in a bit of a specialised niche which could be the ideal place to start writing a blog/podcast. Then you can direct people there! Or carry around business cards with FAQs on, haha. ‘Read this then come, you may talk to me once you’ve finished…’ :)

      You’re not alone!

  4. Em says:

    I became almost allergic to the phrase “proper job”. I’m 25, dreaming of being my own boss one day and doing whatever I love at the moment (which will change as I am a muptipod myself). But I’m really scared most of the time, don’t know what to do, don’t have a plan, don’t have a will, losing my motivation, self doubts and being taken down by the doubts others have about my dreams and what I love above all – especially my parents. Therefore I could tell stories about being demotivated by other people asking me when will I get a proper job :D I’m really sick of that phrase and question.

    But seriously, I’m off school for seven years now and I’ve had enough of “normal jobs”. They were all incredibly miserable, low paid and exhausting mentaly and physically that I simply cannot understand, what is it about such jobs that society approves, that they consider normal and something everybody should be doing. Anytime I do something else, like becoming an au-pair/housekeeper abroad, but whatever, really, just following my passions in any kind, they just call it “the happy time before I have to get back to reality” and some of these people seem to actually be looking forward to the time that I come back to it and get miserable again. I think they would have problems with facing the fact that there is another way and even if I spend my whole life with this “escaping”, they will still think it’s something that has to pass. That I eventually have to leave my happy place and come back, but gosh, I don’t have to and I don’t plan to. I’m not sure what I want to do in my life but I definitely know what I don’t want to do. And I will never surrender to the “normal job” path :D That is my starting point.

    Yes, I am escaping. From visions of lives most people I know live and that scare me to death. They live in the most miserable reality and even if they are sort of happy in their dayjobs and everything, it has no appeal for me and therefore I will always be seeking for ways out – and maybe one day I’ll make it with something that will shut them up and they will see what I’m doing is perfectly equal to the “normal” job :)

    As Quiana said, lots of people discourage others because their own life suck and they want to pull them back to the same level. But we should be proud of being openminded enough to fight for more, to want more freedom and hapiness for ouselves, to want to do it the right way. Even if it’s hard for us, even if I haven’t really made it yet, you know what keeps me up? Those of people around me who keep on telling me “I wish I had your courage. I wish I could leave to England as you did. I wish I could leave everything here and go somewhere else…”.

    • Andy says:

      Spot on. It’s a frustrating and scary place to be. The status quo of people miserably going about their work, expecting you to do the same and even feeling judged by the fact that you refuse. It’s sad that there is almost an underlying assumption that we should suffer and be miserable in our work. And funny that everyone professes a desire to be happy and free, yet we become our own worst enemies and the enemy of anyone who actually goes ahead and tries doing it. It sounds like you’re doing an amazing job, Em – and it’s great to have you in England (if that’s where you still are!) :)

  5. Aviva says:

    Excellent post, Andy. It can indeed be very frustrating to feel as though you must repeatedly explain yourself to people close to you who don’t get it. I have actually said at one point that I was disheartened and discouraged, “Well, this is disheartening. I would love for you to understand the value of my work and how my passion enhances that value, not decreases it. But I think the best way for you to understand at this point is to keep working so you can see for yourself, rather than keep trying to explain.” I’ve only done this once or twice, because, as you so rightly said, our time is precious and we sacrifice lots of it to do what we need to do. If a conversation is becoming a time suck and an emotional drain, I try to use the experience to motivate me in my work. If I’m diligent, it will do the best job of helping people “get it.”

    • Andy says:

      Great point Aviva! I think it’s important to be honest with people as you say, to take the time (maybe just once) to tell them how it makes you feel when they are discouraging and unsupportive.

      I have created an email folder where I put all the encouraging emails I’ve received from people who have thanked me for my work, or said really nice things about articles/stuff I’ve written. This has been helpful for me from time to time just to remind myself why I do what I do, and also I have shared it with people who ‘don’t get’ what I do; it helps show them that just because they might not get it, that doesn’t mean there is no value in it. Thanks! :)

  6. Tony D says:

    Great post!

    I feel like this post was written specifically for me!

  7. Ellie says:

    When I was younger, I got a lot of when are you going to find something stable. How is the temp job of yours going?

    I was actually doing IT contracting and temp made it look like I was a filing clerk in an office. :)

    Once I began making a lot of money, the snide comments stopped.

    Now, the type of IT work I do is perfect for the scanner but even then, after a few years, I got bored. I wanted to quit and have been struggling to keep mildly interested in it.

    I have pressure from my spouse because it does pay a lot of money.

    I’m getting a backlash because contracting has become code for we want you to come in and sit in the desk 40 hours a week just an an employee but we just want to call you a contractor so we can say bye bye whenever or not do your taxes and not pay your retirement, etc.

    I’m no longer so passive and willing to sit for 40 hours a week giving face time when I don’t need to be there and therefore, now, I am a flake and incompetent lol.

    What am I doing about this? I have made some training course about this IT niche, I am writing, I am going back to school.

    I want to make some youtube videos of this niche but I am not young or a cute female anymore. I feel self conscious showing my face on the net because it seems to be for the youth now even though I have been online since near the beginning. I want to be light and funny on the videos but fear not being taken seriously. Sigh.

    • Annie says:

      You don’t want the kind of viewers who watch out of vainty anyway! I would say go for it, you’ll never know if you don’t try. To start out you may present youself incorrectly, but I am sure that most would agree that such outputs of yourself are learning prosesses. Good luck and do what you want, don’t let others hold you back. :-)

    • Layla says:

      You could make webinars/tutorials with just the ‘computer stuff’ showing – I find some of them immensely useful!
      Or use puppets? ;) Or cardboard cutouts? Cartoons?

      Trouble is, there’s a lot of this online, it depends on your knowledge and what’s out there already…?

      For me, the techie stuff is still overwhelming and there’s a lot of it lol! :)

      Wishing you well!!

  8. Jen says:

    This article came at a great time! Thank you!

  9. Layla says:

    I’ve struggled with this for a while too…

    It seems that the best way is to at least look like you have a plan and know exactly what you’re doing! /This may work better or worse, depending on the people around you and how much they know about what you’re doing or planning to do/

    It may also help if you relieve their biggest fears – eg ‘if worse comes to worst I’ll marry a pensioner with a big pension for money’ :)

  10. Christina says:

    Great article! This has been on my mind lately. I’m not the same person I used to be-the one who cared so much about what others thought she succumbed to “Well I’ll consider more of what you’re saying and look into it…” (which was a lie;it was a way to hope people would get off my back). I’m 19 and chose not to go to college. I was interested in an MLM, but also (like you and all your fabulous readers) have NUMEROUS other interests: Music, ministry, marketing,languages, education, etc. I’m not against college and am even considering a course or two… but my goal isn’t a degree, a “good job”, etc… It’s to be happy with what I do and to realistically make income at the same time. I repeat, I’m not against college or a 9-5; but I don’t like being judged for choosing to have a part-time job that allows me a lot of time to pursue all my other interests. I may not be at the income level I desire, but I have faith that eventually through saving and persistence, I eventually will. And if it takes longer than anticipated (a year) I’m ready to get a full time job in the meantime… but I’ve made up my mind not to give up. I’m extremely inspired through your posts. I decided I wanted a website as well and to pursue all my interests at some point or another, knowing that somehow they’ll all connect and that life will not end if things don’t go the way I or anyone else thinks it should. All I gotta do is enjoy the ride. I do need to be more disciplined though. Hehe. But to answer your question (sorry for my rambling xD ) I simply don’t surround myself as often with negative people~even though they are people I love and that’s hard to do. I know I gotta do what’s best for me and I try not to take their discouragement personal. Afterall, they love me and THINK they know best… AND also don’t assume their questions are bad either. My BF pointed that one out. You need to expect a lot of questions when you do something different; be prepared and patient enough to answer but wise to know how much time to spend on answering and for that matter, caring. It takes time to live your dreams and most people today need to SEE it to believe it. So make it happen. And surround yourself with people who will help you make it happen.

  11. Andy says:

    Thanks for your comment, Christina. I think a lot of us can identify with your struggles! I like what your boyfriend says about no assuming questions come from a critical place. People do want the best for us and we all struggle to understand why other people don’t make the choices we would make, this is just exaggerated when it comes to the world of work, career, and daily structure because it’s such a fundamental part of life (everyone has their experience, and people like imparting their own advice on such matters).

    I really hope you manage to get your website going and you continue to structure your life around your interests and ‘art’; patience, belief, and hard work. Keep it up, you’re doing a great thing!

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